It is hard to believe that anyone would use the tragic earthquake in Haiti as an opportunity to spew racist hate speech. In light of the devastation in that island nation, who would exploit the victims’ suffering for political points, make fun of them, and blame them for their plight? Certainly, if anyone is capable of such behavior, it would be Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson.
Following the 7.0 earthquake that leveled Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and claimed countless lives, perhaps thousands, radio host Rush Limbaugh said the following: “This will play right into Obama’s hands. Humanitarian, compassionate. They’ll use this to, to burnish their, shall we say, credibility with the black community, the both light-skinned and dark-skinned black community in, in this country. It’s made-to-order for him. That’s why he couldn’t wait to get out there, could not wait to get out there.”
Meanwhile, Christian televangelist Pat Robertson reacted to the disaster by asserting that Haiti has been “cursed by one thing after another” since they “swore a pact to the devil.” “Something happened a long time ago in Haiti and people might not want to talk about,” Robertson said. He added: “They were under the heel of the French, you know Napoleon the third and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said ‘We will serve you if you will get us free from the prince.’ True story. And so the devil said, ‘Ok it’s a deal.’ And they kicked the French out. The Haitians revolted and got something themselves free. But ever since they have been cursed by one thing after another.”
Unfortunately, racial hatred, disrespect and disregard for Haiti is not a new phenomenon. The poorest nation in the Western hemisphere, Haiti was also the world’s first postcolonial black nation. And it was the only country to gain independence through a slave rebellion. Although Haiti became independent in 1804, the United States did not recognize the nation until 1862, after the Southern states seceded from the Union.
The Dominican Republic, controlled for a time by Haiti in the 1800s, has harbored racial animosity towards its neighbor for years—even though both populations are predominantly of African descent. Although the Dominican Republic was the first nation to provide aid to Haiti, relations have been marred by DR immigration policies and the mass deportation of Haitians, the exploitation of Haitian labor in the DR, and a history of persecuting and executing Haitians living in the DR.
America has a long history of exploiting Haiti— occupying the country, propping up ruthless puppet dictators and supporting its death squads. France and the U.S. meddled in the Caribbean nation’s affairs, and allegedly forced out President Jean-Bertrand Aristide during a coup in 2004. And the U.S. has maintained racist deportation policies which allow fleeing Cubans to seek asylum in America, but require the interdiction of Haitian refugees that make it to the Florida coast.
The recent remarks made by Limbaugh and Robertson reflect the racist attitudes harbored by many Americans towards Haiti—as a poor, black voodoo nation. And the hateful comments made by these two men, however offensive and cruel, are no surprise. Rather, they are part of a pattern of hateful speech.
Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Pat Robertson agreed with Jerry Falwell that God allowed the attacks to occur because of America’s moral decay. After Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans in 2005, he suggested God was angry over abortion. That year, he also called for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. In 2006 Robertson claimed that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had a stroke because he tried to make peace with the Palestinians. And Robertson once said that gay marriage would lead to child molestation.
Moreover, Rush Limbaugh has made numerous racist comments over the years. Once he told a black caller on his radio show to “Take that bone out of your nose and call me back.” On another occasion he asked his audience: “Have you ever noticed how all composite pictures of wanted criminals resemble Jesse Jackson?” Of civil rights groups, he said that “The NAACP should have riot rehearsal. They should get a liquor store and practice robberies.” Limbaugh— who was dropped from a group bidding for the St. Louis Rams football franchise— referred to the NFL as “a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons.” He also called basketball “the favorite sport of gangs.” And in recent years, he has enjoyed playing the song “Barack the Magic Negro” on the air.
Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing, but people must act responsibly. One cannot yell fire in a crowded theater. Limbaugh and Robertson are fanning the flames of racial hatred. The public must hold them accountable for the damage they have caused, as they mock the damage created by that deadly earthquake.